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Tis a Gift to Be Not-Simple

Early Shaker Spirituals, Wooster Group, REDCAT, January 2015, Directed by Kate Valk — I went to REDCAT the other night to see Frances and Liz and company sing Shaker spirituals but I decided not to write about it. I was intrigued for about half of the evening, but then things became a little less intriguing, so I left with a smile and a sigh and a tired kind of near-miss feeling about the evening, and it was this near-miss feeling that eventually gave rise to my decision not to write about the production. Early Shaker Spirituals: A Record Album Interpretation, if you haven’t seen it, begins with four women in Shaker costumes entering from the wings. Grouping themselves on stage, they begin to sing along to tracks from a Rounder … [Read more...]

Shakespeare’s Sonnets: BAM Next Wave

“I don’t want to know why I do anything, I just do it and look at it and then do something else.”   —Robert Wilson In a darkened theater at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), a lone bard, standing beneath a spotlight wearing Elizabethan garb and exaggerated, Kabuki-like makeup, delivers the opening lines to Shakespeare’s Sonnets. In charismatic German she sets the tone, as all prologues should, for the evening yet to unfold. A production directed by the notoriously stylistic Robert Wilson, scored by the singer/songwriter/composer Rufus Wainwright and performed by the Berliner Ensemble, famously founded by Bertolt Brecht in 1949, Shakespeare’s Sonnets was imported from Europe this fall as part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival. Five years … [Read more...]

Oncogenes and Irony in Western Society

Gob Squad: Western Society, U.S. Premier, REDCAT — On Instagram, my daughter watches six second clips of her favorite boy band – little video memes showing the young musicians' daily shenanigans — “O…M…G... Ashton slept shirtless last night!” — intercut with brief snippets of the band thrashing Green Day covers in concert. The other night she showed me a new episode of American Horror in which slasher movie motifs succeeded each other with such rapidity it felt as if I were watching a movie trailer stretched to fill a 54 minute series slot. The representational hooks of consumer culture are getting shorter and sharper, I notice — the number of neurological receptors required to create a convincing image of a stable world are … [Read more...]

Attaining the Singular

Okwui Okpokwasili and Bronx Gothic — One of the pleasures of watching a dance-theater performance like Okwui Okpokwasili’s Bronx Gothic  is how the odd half-truth of words on stage collides and clashes with the blunt truth of the breathing, moving, mortal bodies they come out of. For the first twenty minutes of Bronx Gothic Okpokwasili’s body, shaking expressively in the far corner of the space, speaks to us with remarkable candor about childhood and sex, love and domination, and about the nature of dreaming. Okpokwasili wears a loose fitting brown tunic, so you can see the taut muscles of her back shift and twitch, the sweat gathering as she keeps at it, exorcizing demons. We react to her dancing with desire, fear, hope, joy, lust, … [Read more...]

Last Dance: Tanaquil Le Clercq

Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq (2013), directed by Nancy Buirski — For balletomanes everywhere and people fond of late-1940's British movies; for Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale readers and "glorious Technicolor" aficionados; for girls and boys who hope to dance on stage at Covent Garden or Lincoln Center when they grow up; for members of Moira Shearer and Anton Walbrook fan clubs; for those who appreciate Brian Easdale film scores and Jack Cardiff cinematography; for hopeless romantics who become emotionally involved in rich, overripe stories of doomed love; for Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola, who dusted off the overlooked work of fellow film director Michael Powell, late in his life, and helped to restore his most … [Read more...]

The Cassandra Syndrome

Cry, Trojans!, The Wooster Group, Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, REDCAT,  February 27 - March 9, 2014 — The first responses to The Wooster Group’s Cry, Trojans!  I heard were strong, but then opinion began to curdle, finally setting into an unpleasant gel seeded with the landmines of identity politics. Arriving at REDCAT I was not sure what to expect - all the way back to LSD – Just the High Points in the late 1980s, I've enjoyed Wooster productions, but I typically don’t take issue when someone doesn't respond to the challenges of their work. Taking my seat in bleachers flanking the stage, I got a close up view of Scott Shepard, Ari Fliakos, Kate Valk and the other Woosters fully embodying their gestures and utterances, while … [Read more...]

Exit/Exist

Gregory Maqoma/Vuyani Dance Theatre, REDCAT November 7-10, 2013 — The theatre’s house lights fade to black and audience chatter quickly subsides. Music begins—a trance beat, the brisk playing of a guitar and a quiet electronic pulse; the sound is Indian, African and middle-eastern in flavor.  Small spotlights direct our eyes downstage, center, where a black man wearing a gold sharkskin suit stands with his back to us. He is barefoot. In a moment, he begins to move in sync with the music and his joyous energy soon makes us believe he will never stop moving. The dancer is Gregory Maqoma and he is astonishing. In the first several minutes of his performance piece, Exit/Exist, we never really see his face. His movements begin slowly … [Read more...]

Shun-kin

A production of Complicite and Setagaya Public Theater, Radar LA Festival 2013 Based on the writings of Jun’ichiro Tanizaki  [A Portrait of Shun-kin] — “...perhaps we may be allowed at least one mansion where we can turn off the electric lights and see what it is like without them.” —  In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki The totally darkened stage is  the heart of theater, with the audience stilled, as though in a womb or a closet, in silence, breathing, waiting. The rest is what you must hear because you can’t suffer silence, what you must see because you cannot bear to remain in the dark.  In the formal training of a masochist,  the darkened closet and the blindfold are essential. Darkness is the ground of illumination or … [Read more...]

Incoming! Travis Preston Gives It To Us Straight

Prometheus Bound, World Premiere, A new translation by Joel Agee, Directed by Travis Preston CalArts Center for New Performance, Presented by the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa — Pinned high on a gigantic metal wheel, Aeschylus’ ragged Prometheus has, for the past eighty minutes, been spitting out toxic denunciations of all-mighty Zeus and his dictates. Hermes himself just arrived with the Big Chief's final ultimatum, only to be met with more curses and maledictions from the unrepentant Giver-of-Fire. Finally, Prometheus pauses and looks out, seeing in the far distance the glow of Zeus’ destructive bolt on its way toward him like a heat-seeking missile. Lower down on the steel armature, the flock of women who have gathered in … [Read more...]

Mr. B …and the A.B.T.

ABT, Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center, Los Angeles, July 11-14, 2013 Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times The American Ballet Theatre, based in New York City, mounts an eight-week season of dance performances each spring at Lincoln Center. The balance of the company’s year is largely spent touring the U.S. and the world.  Los Angeles was one of their stop-overs recently—July 11-14, 2013, at the Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center. Four of ABT’s five performances featured one of the very first ballets—“Le Corsaire." This 3-act extravaganza is replete with pirates and slave girls, poisoned roses, Turkish pashas, music by Adolphe Adam, Leo Delibes and three more composers and a ship that sinks in a violent … [Read more...]